Thursday, July 05, 2007

Insulting our intelligence

It can often be said that the fragments of Israeli society come together in times of great joy or great sorrow. These days, Israelis are coming together in disbelief, utter disbelief over the plea bargain agreement presented to the public by Attorney General Menahem Mazuz. I'm not going to rehash the gory details (which can be found here), but I will mention some of the more salient bits. All charges involving rape have been dropped (indeed, all charges involving the central complainant known only as A have been dropped). Katzav will serve no jail time and will perform no community service, but he will pay compensation to his victims. Katzav also agreed to resign as president, which seems rather trivial at this point, given that there are less than two weeks left until Shimon Peres will be inaugurated as the new president. He is also supposed to admit in court to all charges appearing in the indictment, and Mazuz and others have threatened that should he fail to do so, the plea bargain will be thrown out. Until now, all Katzav has said is that he has agreed to accept the plea bargain for his family's sake, and that he admits to touching these women out of affection, which is rather pathetic and more than a little frightening.

When one looks at cases like that of Haim Ramon, Israel's former justice minister who was found guilty of sexual harassment and given a sentence of community service (and recently offered the position of vice-premier in Olmert's government), or Ofer Glazer, the husband of multimillionaire Shari Arison, who served time in jail for similar charges, it is an incomprehensible travesty of justice to watch as our former president is essentially being given a twitch of the pinky (as opposed to the harsher slap on the wrist) for far more serious crimes, with a blind eye having been turned to the most serious charges of all. Mazuz's claims that the charges listed in the plea bargain agreement are very grave and should not be taken lightly, not to mention his concern over not wanting to inflict even greater damage on the office of the president in the eyes of Israelis, wanting to spare us the pain and global humiliation of a trial, and so on are nothing more than outrageous attempts to insult the collective intelligence of our society.

As a civilized society, we must ask ourselves what kind of message this episode sends out, when an individual can assault and harass multiple women over a period of years, using his position of power to coerce and frighten in order to satisfy his own needs, and then getting off virtually scot-free while his victims continue to pay the price for his actions. What Mazuz chooses not to acknowledge is that in order for society to be able to heal from this ordeal, it is imperative that justice be served. To watch Katzav walk away from this saga does far greater damage to the Israeli psyche than any trial possibly could. A regular citizen would be made to pay for committing such heinous crimes. Instead, it is society who is paying. It is the victims who are paying, paying for their misfortune of having been assaulted or worse by a public figure instead of a nobody. This plea bargain sends out a message to sex crime victims that complaints will not necessarily be taken seriously, and that if a public figure is involved, better not to complain at all, better to deal with it quietly on your own. Just ask A.

And lest you think that only Katzav's victims are living a nightmare these days, think again. An acquaintance of mine was raped nearly a year ago. She's a strong, outgoing young woman, and you'd never have guessed by looking at her or spending time with her that she'd undergone such a traumatic experience. Until this week. Until I found her in the throes of a breakdown, and she told me what had happened to her all those months ago. She'd been doing fine, living life, dating and having fun. Hearing about the plea bargain sent her spiraling into her own private hell, and that's where I found her. Her therapist had even warned her that such a thing might happen, that the outcome might act as a trigger, bringing back a devastating event that she'd worked so hard to put behind her. And, if an expert in the field has enough experience to predict such a reaction, it is safe to say that my acquaintance is not the only victim to react in such a way.

It is simply unconscionable that our justice system enables a situation where the gravity of rape can be minimized, and that anyone in positions of power can essentially make a mockery of the most fundamental guidelines of what purports to be a civilized society, turning perpetrators into victims whose acts are easily excused and forgotten (as in the case of our new vice premier), while turning their victims into marginalized, troubled individuals who cannot be trusted to tell the truth.


nrg said...

"A regular citizen would be made to pay for committing such heinous crimes". Are you sure about that? Not to detract from your post, which is bang on and makes an excellent point of the liberties that people in positions of power feel they have a right to take and the grave mistake of any country to let them get away with it.
I just reacted to that line, because in my experience (not personal, thank goodness), not nearly enough 'regular citizens' are made to pay anything in the vicinity of enough for rape or assault. That courts can give such light sentences for a crime that horrendous blows my mind. I could truly rant when it comes to this one...

nominally challenged said...

Hi Liza.

While I absolutely agree with you that Katzav should be dragged over hot coals for this affair, I don't think that it is correct to point the finger at Mazuz. Mazuz's job is to ensure that if this case goes to trial, he will win. Why? Because if his case is not strong enough, then the outcome will be an acquittal. An acquittal is absolutely worse than a plea bargain.

Why was the plea bargain necessary? Several things have come to light. There were apparently clear contradictions in A's own version of events, and the Defense attorneys would have had a field day with that. By taking her out of the equation, Mazuz is protecting her from being dragged over hot coals by Katzav's counsel (and from the case ultimately being dismissed or Katzav ultimately being acquitted because of her own contradictions).

Secondly, unlike rape, sexual assault offenses are under a statute of limitations. Whether or not that is a good thing is clearly up for debate, but Mazuz cannot change the law about those parts of the case. Where complaints are filed too late, his hands are tied. As the law now stands, and unless it is amended, sexual assault complaints must be filed within a given period of time.

Furthermore, by signing this plea bargain, Katzav has essentially also signed away his right to have the entire thing hushed up. A gag order has just been lifted on the details of one of the complaints, and Katzav can't now claim sub-judice, because at this stage, there won't be a trial.

Of course, the plea bargain might yet be overturned, in which case there will be a trial, but we'll all know the details already by that stage.

So now everyone gets to know the details of the cases, which will shame Katzav even more. I think that for a person in his position, where his only source of pride comes from his own inflated sense of self-importance, having to walk around knowing that everyone thinks your a rapist even if you haven't been convicted of being one, is possibly worse than being in prison, and out of the public eye.

I think Mazuz has actually dealt quite deftly with a very problematic situation. He of all people would want to see Katzav convicted of this, and he has in no way cheapened or diminished the severity of the crimes. His problem is that he needs evidence that cannot be overturned. Given that he has evidence that apparently can be overturned, he has done the next best thing - he has essentially given that evidence to the people to decide, under the guise of a plea bargain.

Mazuz is currently unpopular for making this decision, but Katzav - he's the one against whom people's ire should be directed, in my opinion.

Udge said...

I was ready to blow great gusts of fire, but having read NC I'm now not sure. I agree with him that it is definitely better that the SOB admit guilt through the plea bargaining than contest it and win. What an outcome that would be! Sad days.

Liza said...

Hi NC,

You make some excellent points that definitely make me stop and think. I think that my blaming Mazuz has more to do with how he presented things - saving us from the humiliation of a trial, not wanting to dishonor the office of the president, etc. He presented it as though he was trying to protect our sensitivities, and it came off as being very patronizing, and anyone who knows me can tell you that I don't take to that very well. :-)

As for Katzav, I believe that people are very angry at him, and that this episode will follow him for the rest of his life. I think society feels shortchanged by the plea bargain, though. Yes, walking around with that shame will indeed be difficult for him, but given all that he's done (even if we "only" use the charges listed in the plea bargain), he is still essentially walking away from this as a free man, and to me, that is a distortion of justice.

tafka PP said...

I'm very sorry to hear about your friend and how this has brought her trauma back up to the surface. She isn't alone- thousands of women (and men) across Israel who have been assualted are going through exactly the same right now, as this rages on. The hotlines of the Rape Crisis Centers in Israel are apparently ringing off the hook.

If nothing else comes out of this joke of a justice system, at least via the backlash, Israeli society appears to finally be giving a higher level of credence to the seriousness of sexual abuse than previously. And more and more people will find the strength to come forward and get the help they need to overcome their trauma.

tafka PP said...

And another thing- I don't think this is over by any means. Who knows how many more women out there might come forward... or go down the civil courts route? He'll get what's coming to him. I only wish, as NRG alluded to, that they all would...